What Will Gulfport's New Senior Center Look Like? (2024)

by Monroe Roark

What Will Gulfport's New Senior Center Look Like? (1)

A new senior center in Gulfport has been an idea for several years – but it’s not just an idea anymore.

“I believe I first started looking into it and surveying people about it in 2014,” said senior center director Rachel Cataldo. “It has come a long way since then. What I keep trying to tell people is that it is not a rumor anymore. It is actually happening.”

The current center has about 3,000 registered members and serves 400-600 people each weekday. This is done from a facility built in 1983 and in dire need of an overhaul. Not only that, but the senior community has significantly increased over the years and, according to recent estimates, by 2030 the number of senior citizens in the United States could outnumber those under the age of 18 for the first time ever.

Fundraising for a new $13.1 million senior center began in earnest at the beginning of this year, and Cataldo expects construction to start in 2024, although she would love to be able to start sooner.

City Manager Jim O’Reilly noted at the May 17 City Council meeting that officials have communicated with the office of U.S. Rep Charlie Crist about possible congressional appropriations for the project, while Mayor Sam Henderson said he has reached out to a few Pinellas County commissioners and invited them to see what is being planned in hopes of getting county funds.

“We are using a lobbyist for the federal and state funding, and a fundraising company for the local, corporate, and private philanthropists,” Cataldo said, who added that the primary naming rights for the new building could possibly be revealed in the fall.

The current center has about 3,000 registered members and serves 400-600 people each weekday. This is done from a facility built in 1983 and is in dire need of an overhaul.

The new senior center will be built right next to the current one. Construction will begin in the parking lot and road immediately to the south, facing the library. After it is completed, Cataldo’s department will probably shut down for two-three weeks to move everything over to the new building, after which the old building will get demolished, although the Catherine Hickman Theater will remain intact. In the end, there will be three separate buildings in the complex with parking and green space in between.

A key detail in this process is that senior services will not be interrupted during construction with the exception of the move into the newly completed building.

“I had several priorities when we were looking at designing the new center. One of them was that we cannot be shut down for construction,” said Cataldo. “That kind of limited us on where we could do it, but at the same time it is so important that we don’t shut down for 12-18 months. It is just not possible.”

Another important item for Cataldo is the implementation of universal design for the project. This will be reflected in multiple ways.

For example, the new center will be in the middle of the parking lot rather than in a corner or on one side where residents might have to walk an exceptionally long distance from their vehicles. There will be two entrances to the facility, but no back door.

Various regulations related to the Americans with Disabilities Act will be expanded upon and magnified. All bathroom facilities will be geared for handicapped access, and whereas in the current center some hallways are impossible to navigate through when a wheelchair is coming from the other direction, all corridors in the new center will be wide enough for two-way access.

Specific enhancements noted on the City’s website include a more discreet food pantry being incorporated into the design to eliminate the possible embarrassment and stigma for its users. Extra meeting rooms and office space will allow the Center to offer space to third-party resources (veteran services, legal assistance, Medicare and health insurance assistance, benefit application assistance, and the like), which will create a “one-stop shop” concept. Outdoor activity space and large meeting rooms are being added to accommodate all senior center activities.

Use of the current senior center is free for Gulfport residents and $50 per year for those who live outside the city limits (the fee is waived for veterans). Cataldo noted that most out-of-town users are very impressed with the low cost, and others who initially balk at the price are informed that it is all-inclusive while many senior centers charge for each individual activity.

Anyone interested in making a donation to the new senior center is encouraged to contact Cataldo at 727-893-1231 or stop by the center and see her in person.

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What Will Gulfport's New Senior Center Look Like? (2024)

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